Scripture Passage: Mark 7:1-8
The practice of the disciples of Jesus conflicted with the tradition of the Pharisees. A conflict has always existed between the way it was and the way it ought to be. What traditions should be tightly held, and which ones can be modified or released. The music of the church and the expression of worship is an illustration of this tension. What traditions are important to you in your faith journey? As Bob Seger sang, “ Just take those old records off the shelf…. I’ll sit and listen to ’em by myself …Today’s music ain’t got the same soul…. I like that old-time rock and roll”
Our lesson this morning comes from the seventh chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Hear these words. Now, when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him. They noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands.
That is, without washing them. For the Pharisees and all of the Jews do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands. Thus observing the tradition of the elders. And they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it.
And there are also many other traditions that they observe the washing of cups, pots, bronze kettles. So the Pharisees and the scribes ask him. Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?
And he said to them. Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites as it is written. This People honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me teaching human precepts as doctrines?
You abandon the commandment of God and hold human tradition. Friends, this is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen. Well, the other week I was going to the grocery store, decided I’ll just fill my gas tank, pulled into the circle K right there by Super one, got ready to pump my
gas, and I saw something that confounded me that Kyle or whoever the booth people are going to put up on the screen. Yes, something just appeared behind me. There it is y’all. Right there. The gas station next to Super One attached to the garbage cans are Purel hand washing stations.
Now, why are they attached to the garbage cans? What am I supposed to do? Do I wash and then throw away do a throwaway after I’ve washed? Do I wash before I pump my gas or do I wash after I pump my gas?
Why do you have a hand washing station at a gas station attaching it to a garbage can? I am confused, but we have become pompous and self-righteous about washing our hands. Have you wash your hands today? How many times do you wash your hands?
Y’all I remember a workshop. I had to go to, the board to health put it on. I’d been wash my hands at that time for about forty five years. But the Board of Health said before you can get your day care license, you and your staff have to go through a hand washing workshop.
A nurse came in and taught us how to wash. Do you know how to wash your hands? You get them wet? Throw the soap on it. They’ll do it. No, you have to wash your hands while singing.
Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily. Life is but a dream. Unless you’re in the medical profession and about to operate on me, OK, you just need to go on second verse. What the heck?
We know how to wash our hands. Growing up, my maternal grandparents were born in the 19th century, which meant I learned a bunch of cool stuff. I learned how to start a fire and a pot bellied stove because they had a pot belly stove in their kitchen, and that’s where Papa cooked flapjacks and Jabor.
I know about dampers and the wood and the kindlin and then the coal. He had a coal shed in his backyard. They would deliver these glorious mounds of black wonderment. And me and my brother and sister would have coal battles in the backyard throwing that stuff at each other.
My grandmother would call us in at noon and she’d say, it’s time for lunch. Let me see your hands. And we’d hold them up and she’d say, Go wash your hands. Can we use Papa’s lava soap? Yeah, use the lava soap.
But I want to see clean hands. And we walked back in. Our hands would be so clean and there’d be other times we’d be out playing all morning long as we didn’t go to the coal thing. And my nanny would say, let me see your hands.
We’d hold our hands up. And they were dirty. But she’d said, yeah, OK, you can eat. And I later discovered it was less about hygiene and more about her tablecloth as to whether or not we washed our hands.
Jesus, the king of kings and the Lord of Lords, the one that is God in the flesh, the hope of Judaism has come. He’s walking around, gathering disciples, teaching, ministering, healing, loving, and the Pharisees and the scribes are worried about him washing his hands.
You don’t wash your hands enough. In the Old Testament the priests are required to wash their hands when they enter the tabernacle. Average Jewish people are only only required to wash their hands if they have been in contact with squishy human parts.
Otherwise, there is no law in the Old Testament, no rubric, no commentary on washing their hands. But the Pharisees and the scribes believed that Moses went on up on Sinai and got two laws. He got the Torah, the Ten Commandments for this discussion, and God gave them the Mishnah.
The commentary on the law. And the Mishnah is where you got the handwashing rules, by the time that Jesus was teaching a good Jew had to wash their hands after touching human excretion. A woman after childbirth, if you were involved in that, you had to wash your hands.
If they touched corpses, carrion, creeping things, idols, lepers, gentiles, Samaritans. You had to wash your hands. If you went to the market, you had to wash your whole body. Just go ahead and bathe because you’ve bumped against some Gentiles.
The Jews, the Pharisees and the scribes get so bad about this. There are places in the book of Ezra and in the book of Daniel. It’s not written in Hebrew. It’s written in Aramaic. They taught that if you touch that part of Ezra or Daniel that was written in Aramaic, you had to wash your hands because that
scripture was unclean, too. And if you dared to touch a copy of the Bible written in Arabic. Oh, that was an all body scrub down. So they come up with all these rules about what’s clean or unclean. And it starts out as things are clean or unclean, and eventually it involves that people
are now clean or unclean. And if you can’t get to the Purell hand handwashing station, what you better do is just not get near these unclean people. Just stay away. That’s the tradition. Of the elders. Has nothing to do with what the Bible says.
It’s a human tradition. We don’t have those, do we? No, we don’t have those. I have the mother in law living with us, and that means that Thanksgiving comes to our house. So all Tamara’s siblings descend upon us.
And I made a horrible, radical suggestion the other day. That we change the traditional family Thanksgiving menu. I’m just going to hate it. I’m get in trouble with y’all, I hate turkey there and there’s no excuse for turkey.
I don’t care if you smoke it, fry it, bake it, broil it. I don’t care what you do with it. No, no turkey. I said, why don’t we cook steaks? Everybody loves steak. Let’s have steaks for Thanksgiving. We can’t do that.
It’s a tradition. And I pushed it a little bit further and said, well, what’s the tradition? Nobody in this family likes Turkey but Eric. And he’s my brother in law. He don’t count. What’s the deal? I said, we gotta have Turkey for the casserole on Friday.
Oh. You have a tradition where’s this written? We just know if you will be a part of our family, you have Turkey on Thanksgiving. I’m having steak. We were planning this service, Mark said, hey, I’ve read the sermon title.
Here’s what I’m gonna do with the music. I’m going to sing a bunch of traditional traditional music. We’ll do it differently. We’ll see if they catch on. Very traditional music. And as he was doing it, I was looking around thinking what a glorious place to worship.
And then I looked at the scars on my body. I’ve got a scar on my arm here from the worship wars of 1985 when we actually said, you know, we can do worship a different way. Oh. Bet this church started out with contemporary worship in the fellowship hall, right between two traditional worship services, didn’t it?
Uh huh. Because that’s what all Methodist Churches did. Because you know what? We can’t mess with tradition. Whose tradition is it? It’s not God’s. Tradition is important as it points us to Jesus Christ, but sometimes your tradition becomes a taboo.
Sometimes tradition becomes exclusive. It excludes people. And that’s what the Jewish tradition about hand washing was all about. It was about excluding people from Judaism. It was about letting people know in very subtle ways, you’re dirty, you’re unclean, you don’t belong.
You’re not one of us. And even as the New Testament, even as the New Testament church is evolving, they got caught up in the same things. Check out Paul’s book to Galatians. It’s basically written to those who wanted to draw the church back into the exclusivism of Judaism.
And Paul says unh-uh. Sometimes our traditions exclude because people don’t understand our traditions. Methodists are creatures of habit. I’m sure you haven’t caught on. You all sit in the same seat every Sunday. It doesn’t matter if you’re go into the traditional service of the refuge, you all pretty much sit in the same place.
I’m beginning to learn the seating chart. Of course, I’ve got two congregations. There’s the un-masked congregation and the masked congregation, but it’s still y’all. In this one church I pastored over on this side of the church, four rows back by the big stained glass windows on the outside set, Mr. Stewart next to him was his wife, Irene
. Next to her was their daughter Bei. Next to her was the son in law, Roy. Next to Roy, sat their son Ed, and next to Ed, sat Kathee, daughter in law. So it went. Stewart Irene, Bei, Roy, Ed and Kathee. Stewart had been sitting in that seat for probably 70 plus years.
He was a righteous man, a loving man, a sweet man. He was one of the the pillars of that church. And that was his seat. And I could look out just flash and I boom, I knew they were there.
I could do a head count without really paying attention because all the spaces were full. Well, this one, Sunday, Stewart spent too much time in his Sunday school class having fellowship at the end of class. And the ushers were in the back talking about something. I don’t know what ushers talk about, but they were engaged in deep conversation
. And a visitor came in, took a bulletin from the usher, but the usher did not help greet the visitor, find their seat and the visitor with straight. For Stewart,s seat. SAT down in it. And the Methodists began to tider, you know, you tider before services.
It’s called passing information. And I walked out during the prelude and I get here the Methodist tittering. So I looked around to see what was wrong and I saw it. Somebody is in Stewart’s seat. Oh, the rest of the family gathering their narthex because that’s what they did.
They had an unofficial procession in on Sunday morning following Stewart into his seat. He would stand there and usher them all into the row. Stewart began his procession down the side aisle and he looked. And there was a visitor in his seat and he stopped and he was about to lay the right hand of Christian Fellowship on
the guy’s shoulder and tell him to move, and his wife, Irene, caught the nerve in the elbow. It’s the nerve that all females know exactly where it is. And she squeezed down on him, paralyzing his hand, pulled it away and said, let’s sit behind them.
And you could watch her pull him into the row behind them. So there they all sat same order. One row back. And he fidgeted. I knew it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. Because it was an angry fidget. And during the first hymn, he fidgeted some more.
And during the affirmation of faith, he had the look of hostility on his face. We got through the Gloria Patri, and there was a moment of silence when we were trying to sit down to go to the pastoral prayer.
And Stewart didn’t sit. He said, aw hell, Irene they’re in my seat. Let’s go home. Everybody heard it. I heard it. The guest heard it. The Lord Jesus himself heard it. And then the Stewart departed out of the doors at the front of the worship space. That worship service ended right there.
You don’t recover from that. Stewart was back the next Sunday sitting in his seat. We never saw the guest again. And I guarantee you, there’s this fella going through North America telling the story about the time he went to a church and he sat in somebody’s seat and the guy got mad at him.
What happened? Somebody bumped into a church tradition that he didn’t know was there. Church’s traditions become taboos when they become exclusive, they become taboos when they create a spirit of self-righteousness. We have gotten so self-righteous in the last year and a half.
We’re self-righteous about our hand washing, our mask wearing, our vaccination status. We have we have got we’re self-righteous about our knowledge of pharmacology. They’re just all kinds of self-righteousness floating around, which means we’re right. You’re wrong. Sometimes church traditions create a spirit of self-righteousness we know better than everybody and these church traditions.
Actually, keep us from Christ. Rather than pointing toward Christ. They keep us from Christ. Amos, the prophet, said it this way, God speaking through the prophet, I hate I despise your festivals. I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. And the offerings of well-beings of your fatted animals. I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs.
I will not listen to the melody of your harps, but let justice the way you relate to others. Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness the way you relate to God like an ever flowing stream. How many times in church life have you heard it said?
We’ve never done it that way before. We tried that before and it didn’t work. No one does that in our church. When you’ve been around a little bit longer, you’ll understand why that can’t be done. We’ve been running this church long before you got here.
Who gave you permission to change the rules? And my favorite one. Who approved that? All because church traditions point to the church rather than to the Christ. And we’re a whole lot more comfortable saying, well, we kept the tradition.
Because church traditions don’t change things. Jesus Christ does. I love church traditions. Been a part of keeping a lot of them. But I pray that we only keep the ones that are transformative, that we only keep the ones that change human lives.
There’s a story of a priest who dreamed that he died and was standing before the judgment seat of God, and he said he expected to see God on a big throne or he expected to see the books open.
But he said what he saw were the scales. Two big scales. And he said. The angels would come, and for every good thing he had done. They would put something on the scale and the balance would tip tipped toward good.
And he said, and then the demons would come if you’d done something bad and they would put something on the scale and they would start tilting the other way. And he said, the scale tilted so far with the demons in their badness.
No matter what good he had done, no matter what righteousness he had done. It seemed the demons and the bad in his life had overcome. He said he cried out in his dream, Ooh, Christ, have mercy. And he heard the sound of three nails, three bloodstained nails who didn’t look very substantial, but they were placed on the
good side of the scale. And they tilted the scale. Toward the good. Who could imagine? That the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary could overcome all the evil and all the bad he’s done. The Pharisees and the scribes were walking with Jesus, the son of God, the one who would love and heal and forgive and offer his
life as an atoning sacrifice. They were with him. But all they saw was he wasn’t keeping their traditions. He wasn’t washing his hands. The way tradition taught he should. That my friend, is when a tradition, tightly held, becomes a dangerous thing.
Let’s cling to the cross and the Christ on the cross. Would you stand and pray with me? It’s easier, oh God to follow the rules. We would like for there to be five things we need to do and four things we don’t need to do, and that be all we would be called to do.
Yet in Christ, we’ve been set free. Been set free to live a rich full life. We’ve been set free to follow the Christ and to follow the leadership and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, oh, lord, give us that freedom and victory, especially when we run into tradition.
Let us follow you no matter what. In Jesus name, amen.